Marguerite Bourgeoys was born in Troyes, France, on April 17, 1620. She was a girl like any other, who took care of her appearance and enjoyed entertainments until, at the age of 20, she was touched by Mary during a procession on the feast of Holy Rosary. She decided to consecrate herself to God. She entered the extern community of the cloistered teachers of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame de Troyes. She was thus able to teach poor children in the city suburbs. She worked there for 13 years, until she met Mr. de Maisonneuve, governor of Montreal in New France.
Mr. de Maisonneuve invited Marguerite to come with him to Canada to teach in the new town founded under the name of Ville-Marie. After her arrival in 1653, aged 33, she began the construction of the Notre-Dame de Bon-Secours chapel, inspired by the Virgin Mary who had told her, “Go, I will not abandon you.”
The Christian education of children began only four years later. In the meantime, she devoted herself to social work with young families and the filles du roi who had come to Canada to marry settlers. She visited the sick, buried the dead, consoled the afflicted and taught catechism to the settlers. She was called “the Mother of the colony.”
On a trip to France, Marguerite brought back with her three school teachers and three fellow nuns of from her community. She opened small schools all over the shores of New France. In 1658, with her companions, she founded the Congregation of Notre-Dame of Montréal. The religious congregation was approved by the Church in 1698. Marguerite Bourgeoys pronounced her vows when she was 78 years old. She died at age 80 on January 12, 1700.
Marguerite Bourgeoys was declared Venerable in 1878, was beatified by Pius XII on November 12, 1950, and was finally canonized by John Paul II on October 31, 1982. The liturgical feast of Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys is January 12.
The charism of visitation
Marguerite Bourgeoys was attracted to the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus, especially by two events reported in the gospels: first, Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant, then her presence among the apostles on Pentecost Day. Visiting, going out to meet others, listening to them, welcoming them—such is the charism Marguerite Bourgeoys handed down to the religious of the Congregation of Notre-Dame. Mary has become a model of involvement characterized by visitation, compassion and solidarity with the impoverished, the excluded or the oppressed.
Patronal feast of the Visitation
The Congregation of Notre-Dame was the first female religious community established in Ville-Marie, which in 1836 became the Diocese of Montreal. This is why the patronal feast day of the Diocese of Montreal is the Visitation, celebrated on May 31. The diocesan faith education project, “Proposing Jesus Christ today,” also reminded us at the outset that the first evangelization mission of the New Testament, done by Mary, was an encounter, a Visitation.